For several years the city of Mexico Beach has debated, dissected and diagrammed a Leave No Trace ordinance.

For several years the city of Mexico Beach has debated, dissected and diagrammed a Leave No Trace ordinance.

The city council has formally weighed such an ordinance at least twice, settling for a “Keep it Neat” voluntary campaign for beach cleanliness.

A citizens’ committee mounted a successful petition drive, securing over 300 signatures, well above the threshold required under the city charter to force city officials to action.

On Tuesday, the city’s more than 1,100 voters get their say.

Voting will take place 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. CT at the Civic Center in a special referendum on whether the city should formalize a Leave No Trace ordinance.

Proponents cite trends in recent years which have seen, particularly after the Fourth of July holiday, the beaches rendered a landscape of tent frames, chairs and all variety of beach debris.

While “Keep it Neat” was a fine idea, it has not had the needed impact, they argue.

“The last couple oif years we tried ‘Keep it Neat’ and that just didn’t work,” said Mary Lee Raulerson, spokesperson for the committee that pushed the petition drive.

“The beach is a mess and it has only gotten worse the past two years. People are leaving things on the beach all night long. Some people are leaving things there for weeks at a time. Tents, chairs, flotation devices; all these things that the wind can blow into the water, if it gets bad, or back up into the dune.”

A central argument for supporters of the ordinance is to bolster future tourism by maintaining what brings tourists to the area.

“It is real important to keep the beaches in good condition, in pristine condition, because that is what draws people here,’ Raulerson said.

Opponents see the ordinance as an overreach, a circumvention of the role of a city council which has twice walked away from Leave No Trace.

“That is the primary reason I am against it,” said Mitch Coleman. “We have a representative government. The issue has been brought to that representative government several times.”

Coleman also questions the cost of enforcement.

It is one thing to have the ordinance on the books, but what are the costs of enforcement beyond the $3,000 cost of the special election.

Will code enforcement become a full-time job? Is the Department of Public Safety to play a role, diluting resources? How about the Community Development Council?

“How are you going to enforce it?” said former councilman Jeff Tendler. “How are you going to pay for it?”

That is a hurdle Gulf County has wrestled with, approving a Leave No Trace ordinance three years ago without providing additional resources for enforcement, Coleman noted.

Coleman said a citizens committee could take on the role of helping to police the beaches, to assist in cleaning, particularly after the holidays, and toward the end of the beach which is primarily rental properties.

The “Keep it Neat” slogan could provide the starting point.

“The attitude of ‘Keep it Neat”, people bought into it,” Tendler said. “This ordinance is going to be too restrictive and too expensive.”

Corporate sponsors might be secured to assist with t-shirts and supplies, Coleman suggested.

“I wish (the petition committee) put as much effort into keeping our beaches clean,” Coleman said. “We should take a reactive approach, instead of a proactive one.

“Around the jettys and the pier, maybe it is a mess during the season … but it is not like we have a runaway problem.”

Raulerson and the petition committee disagree, arguing the beaches are becoming more and more a mess, “Keep it Neat” or not.

And, Raulerson added, it is not just about appearance, but safety and preservation of the sea turtle population that paddle to the area each summer.

“It is not just for the looks of the beach, it is for our turtles,” Raulerson said. “The turtle patrol is behind this 100 percent. They go down every morning and see the turtle tracks.

“They have done down and seen where the turtles have gotten up to this stuff that tis left and they turn around and go back and they don’t nest. Or they get tangled in it.”